Sorry for the goof!

Dammit to hell. The “Very Big Atheist Conference” post wasn’t supposed to go up until April 1. Typepad screwed up with the scheduling. I’ll reprint it then, with all comments that had already been made on it. Sorry for the mixup!

“Spreading the Good News About Atheism”: Why We Need Atheist Ad Campaigns

“Are you good without God? Millions are.”

“Imagine no religion.”

“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Cfi-living-without-religion Atheist ad campaigns are everywhere. Around the U.S. and around the world, atheist organizations have been buying space on billboards, buses, TV and more, with messages ranging from the mild-mannered “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone” to the in-your-face “You know it’s a myth.” The current “Living Without Religion” campaign from the Center for Inquiry, letting the world know that “You don’t need God — to hope, to care, to love, to live” — is only the latest in a series of advertising blitzes: from American Atheists, the Coalition of Reason, the American Humanist Association, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and many other organizations. Even local student atheist groups have been getting into the act, using buses in their college towns to spread the good news about atheism.

And whenever they do, they are almost guaranteed to garner resistance. Conservative religionists often object vehemently to the very concept of atheist advertising: in many cases trying to get the ad campaigns stopped altogether, and frequently even vandalizing the billboards. (In what has to be the irony of the year, some bus companies have stopped accepting all religious-themed ads, simply so they don’t have to accept ads from atheists.) And while moderate and progressive believers have never (to my knowledge) tried to stop these atheist ad campaigns from moving forward, many are still baffled and even offended by the ads. They see them as proselytizing, evangelical… and they don’t understand why people who are opposed to religion would be proselytizing and evangelical.

So why do atheists do this?

Why do atheists spend substantial amounts of money and resources to let the world know we exist, and to get our ideas across?

*

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, “Spreading the Good News About Atheism”: Why We Need Atheist Ad Campaigns. To find out why atheist ad campaigns are both valid and necessary — and what the hostile reactions to them says about religion — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Fred Phelps, and Why We Shouldn’t Look for Loopholes in the First Amendment

This piece was originally published on AlterNet.

God Hates FagsLet’s start with something I hope we all agree on. What Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church do? It’s repulsive. Picketing people’s funerals? Specifically, picketing the funerals of gay-bashing victims and U.S. soldiers? Going to people’s funerals and essentially celebrating? Wielding big colorful signs saying, “God Hates Fags,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Thank God for 9/11,” “God Hates You,” and so on? Saying that dead soldiers — gay, straight, whatever, doesn’t matter — are God’s punishment to America for tolerating homosexuality?

Repulsive. Horrifying. The dictionary definition of evil. I get that. No argument.

The question is: What should we do about it?

As you’ve probably heard, the Supreme Court just ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church does have the right, within some reasonable limits, to picket at funerals. Background, in case you’re not familiar with the case: The Westboro Baptist Church was sued by Albert Snyder, father of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, for picketing at his son’s funeral with their vile and hateful message. The court ruled that, since the protests happened peacefully and in a public space at a non-disruptive distance from the funeral — and since, quote, “speech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values and is entitled to special protection” — the original judgment against them could not stand.

Many progressives have expressed outrage at this ruling. And from an emotional point of view, that outrage is totally understandable. The Westboro Baptist Church is very, very good at hitting our most raw nerves. They hurt people for the sake of hurting them, and apparently take glee in doing so. They violate fundamental principles of human decency. They are loathsome. Outrage against them is entirely reasonable.

But here’s the problem.

Many of the progressive arguments against the Supreme Court ruling? They’re very contorted. They don’t look like clear thinking based on clear principles of Constitutional law. They look like rationalizations for why the Constitution doesn’t really have to apply in this case. They look like the reactions of people who are deeply upset about what the Westboro Baptist Church does — as indeed they should be — and are looking for legal loopholes to try to stop them.

And we should not be looking for loopholes in the First Amendment.

I want to get into some specific arguments progressives are making against this decision… and why, specifically, they don’t hold up. But before I go there, I need to make this core principle very, very clear:

We should not. Be looking. For loopholes. In the freaking First Amendment.

First-Amendment-flag The First Amendment, and the right to the free expression of political ideas, is one of most crucial cornerstones of our democracy. Without it, democracy collapses. Without the freedom to express political opinions, we can’t participate fully in the political process. Without the freedom to hear political opinions, we can’t make informed decisions about what we think. And without the freedom to hear and express opinions that dissent from the mainstream, there is no way that mainstream opinion can change. The right to free speech is an essential part of democracy. And it is, in and of itself, a basic human right, a value that is worth treasuring and protecting for its own sake.

So our default assumption should always, always, always be that speech should be free, unless there is a tremendously compelling reason to limit it.

And this principle especially applies to political speech: expression of opinion on matters of public concern, in a public place, that doesn’t disrupt any private activities.

Too late to pray Which is exactly what the Westboro Baptist Church was up to. They were in a public place. They were not violent; they were not disruptive; they were not invasive. Yes, they picketed a funeral. They picketed a funeral from 1,000 feet away — so far away that the plaintiff didn’t even know they were there until he heard about it on the news the next day. As repugnant as it was, what the Westboro Baptist Church did in this case was political speech. The only thing that made it different from any other political speech was the hateful, vile, abhorrent content.

And when we’re considering questions of free speech and the First Amendment, the content of the speech, and whether or not we find it hateful and vile and abhorrent, is entirely irrelevant.

Are there some reasonable limitations on speech? Of course. Some classic examples: laws against libel, fraud, false advertising, copyright violation, revealing state secrets. I’m sure we can all come up with some more.

But if we care about freedom and democracy as much as we claim to, then our default assumption should be that speech is permitted. We should not be looking for excuses to ban speech we don’t like. We should not start with the conclusion that the ghoulish expression of disgusting political opinions should be banned, and then go hunting for legal loopholes that will let us accomplish that. We should start with the assumption that the expression of political opinions should of course be permitted… and treat any attempt to limit it with extreme suspicion, and the expectation that it better have a damn good reason behind it.

We should not be looking for loopholes in the First Amendment.

And that’s exactly what progressive objections to the SCOTUS decision look like. They don’t look like sound reasoning based on solid legal and ethical principles. They look like rationalizations for an emotional reaction. They look like contorted excuses for why, in this particular case, we don’t really need to care about the First Amendment.

Here are a few examples of what I mean.

Gravblom1966 “Funerals are private affairs — and people have a right to not have their private affairs disrupted and invaded.”

Right. That’s a reasonable argument. Or it would be… if the WBC had been disruptive and invasive of the funeral in question.

But they weren’t. Like I said before — like I keep saying again and again when I discuss this case, since so many people seem to be doggedly ignoring it — in the particular case considered by the Supreme Court, the WBC was so non-disruptive and non-invasive of the funeral that the plaintiff didn’t even know they were there until the next day. The emotional upset wasn’t brought on by the funeral being protested. It was brought on simply by hearing about it on the news the next day, and knowing that the protests had happened at all. If the protests had happened in the next street, or the next town, or the next state, the effect would have been the same.

So how would you propose to write a law banning this? Should we write a law saying that nobody is ever allowed to express political protest on the occasion of someone’s death?

Richard_Nixon When Nelson Rockefeller died, the lefty radio station in New York played “Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead.” When Spiro Agnew died, I saw op ed pieces in newspapers basically saying, “Good riddance to bad rubbish.” When Richard Nixon died, Hunter S. Thompson wrote a piece excoriating him, calling him (among other things) “scum,” an “evil bastard,” ” a cheap crook and a merciless war criminal,” and “a political monster straight out of Grendel,” and expressing the wish that his body be burned in a trash bin or launched into an open- sewage canal. Tasteless? Yes. I, personally, would not do that (although I do have a sneaking admiration for the uniquely articulate vitriol of the Thompson piece). But were these legitimate forms of political speech on matters of public concern? Absolutely.

And as long as the pickets didn’t actually disrupt the funeral while it was in progress, I don’t see how the WBC protests are any different.

Except for the content of the speech.

Which is exactly what we can’t write laws limiting.

And this argument looks exactly like an attempt to write laws limiting speech, simply because we don’t like the content — and to rationalize after the fact why that would be okay.

Fire in a crowded theater “Yes, free speech is important — but there are limits. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Etc.”

Right. There are limits to free speech.

Why should this be one of them?

Again — free speech is one of the most basic and crucial cornerstones of democracy and freedom. Free political speech especially. We should not be thinking, “Why does this form of speech deserve protection?” We should be thinking, “Why is this form of speech under attack?” Our default should be that speech should always be permitted — unless there’s a powerfully compelling reason to restrict it.

And “We find the content of this speech revolting” does not qualify.

Theres probably no god In fact, the exact opposite is true. The whole freaking point of the First Amendment is the protection of unpopular speech. It wasn’t written to protect our right to say that puppies are cute and apple pie is delicious. It was written to protect our right to say things that make people flee in horror… from “God Hates Fags” to “Gay Is Good,” from “Stop the War” to “Bomb Them Into The Stone Age,” from “God Wants Our Soldiers To Die” to “God Does Not Exist.”

It’s true that our rights are limited when our actions impinge on others; that our right to swing our fist ends where someone else’s nose begins. But when it comes to free speech, we have to ask, “What constitutes a broken nose”? In the case of laws against fraud, libel, copyright violation, etc., the damage from the speech is clear, and it’s material. But in the case of this funeral protest? The damage was, “Hearing opinions that were profoundly upsetting.”

And that is exactly what we don’t have the right to be protected from. We don’t have the right to be protected from hearing ideas we find upsetting. The expression of opinions we find upsetting — opinions on public matters, expressed in a public place, in a manner that does not invade private space — is exactly what the First Amendment was written to defend.

You can’t just say, “There are some reasonable limits on free speech — therefore, this particular limit on free speech should be considered reasonable.” Again, the burden of proof should be on the people trying to ban the speech — not on the people speaking it. Our default assumption should not be that limiting speech is reasonable. Our default assumption should be that limiting speech is a bad, bad idea, and should only be done in rare cases, where material harm is being done, as an absolute last resort.

So if you’re going to argue that a particular form of speech should be limited, you have to make a compelling, positive argument as to why this form of speech does material harm. And it can’t have anything to do with whether the content of the speech is objectionable, or upsetting, or utterly reprehensible.

And this argument looks exactly like an attempt to write laws limiting speech, simply because we don’t like the content — and to rationalize after the fact why that would be okay.

Miss manners “This violates fundamental rules of human decency.”

Yup. It sure does.

So what?

South park “Pink Flamingos” violates fundamental rules of human decency. “I Spit On Your Grave” violates fundamental rules of human decency. Anti-abortion marches with signs showing aborted fetuses violate fundamental rules of human decency. Cartoons comparing Barack Obama to a monkey violate fundamental rules of human decency. “Robot Chicken” violates fundamental rules of human decency. “South Park” violates fundamental rules of human decency. Hell, Celine Dion violates fundamental rules of human decency.

So what? It’s still protected speech.

Basically, what people are saying here is, “They’re rude.” Okay, granted, that’s trivializing the matter. What people are saying is, “They’re really, really rude. They are truly, horribly, appallingly rude. They are offensive beyond our powers to describe.”

Yup. They sure are.

And we don’t write bad manners into law.

When people exhibit bad manners, we scowl at them. We turn our noses up at them. We tell them they’re being rude. We speak out against them. In extreme cases, we shun them from polite society, or organize protests against them, or try to get them fired from their jobs.

But trying to write bad manners into law? That’s a textbook definition of an attempt to write laws limiting speech, simply because we don’t like the content — and to rationalize after the fact why that would be okay.

Hate_crime_poster_front “This isn’t protected speech. This is harassment/ bullying/ incitement to violence/a violation of privacy/ a hate crime.”

Uh… no.

Once again, if you’re making any of these arguments, you really need to look at the facts of this case. (The New York Times has a decent summary and a link to a PDF with the full SCOTUS ruling.)

Protest sign The WBC did not follow people down the street screaming threats. They didn’t stand around a fistfight shouting, “Kill him!” They didn’t beat someone with a crowbar yelling, “Die, faggot!” They didn’t even scream in the mourners’ faces. Again — for what seems like the bezillionth time in all the conversations I’ve had on this topic — the funeral protests in this case were quiet, non-violent, compliant with local laws and police instructions, restricted to public property, and so non-invasive that the plaintiff didn’t even know they were there until he heard about it on the news the next day. If the funeral was not disrupted, it’s not an invasion of privacy. If no crime was committed apart from the disputed speech itself, it’s not a hate crime. If imminent lawless acts weren’t specifically being encouraged, it’s not incitement to violence. And it is bloody well not harassment or bullying if you have to hear about the horrible things someone said about you on the news the next day.

I’m sorry if I seem harsh. I get that this case is upsetting, and I really am trying to be sympathetic. But these arguments disturb me. These arguments show a serious lack of familiarity with even the most basic facts of this case: an unfamiliarity that reveals an unsettling lack of concern about the case, and the genuinely important legal and ethical issues connected with it. These arguments look like attempts to ignore the facts, or even distort them, because they contradict the desired conclusion — the conclusion that the WBC shouldn’t be allowed to do what they do. They look exactly like attempts to write laws limiting speech, simply because we don’t like the content — and to rationalize after the fact why that would be okay.

Why on Earth do progressives want to do that?

*

Look. I, myself, am queer. I’m one of the people the WBC is specifically targeting with their venom. I’m one of the people they specifically think God hates; one of the people they think is on the straight track to hell, cheerfully dragging the rest of the country down with me. And I am every bit as revolted by Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church as anyone. What they do is monstrous, and I stand against them with every fiber of my being.

Godhatesjedi And there are many, many things we can do to stand against them. We can organize counter-protests. Organize same-sex kiss-ins at their protests. Support gay-positive education and the spreading of gay-positive ideas in the culture. Work against the bullying of gay kids in schools. Wear T-shirts that say, “Fags Hate God.” Keep a vigilant eye on them, and if they do break any laws, smack them down like dogs. Make fun of them. Ignore them, on the theory that they thrive on attention and we ought not to give it to them. Speak out against homophobia whenever and wherever we see it. Make sure they not only lose the battle of history, but look like villains and fools doing it.

There are many things we can do to stand against them. But banning their speech is not one of them.

As a purely practical matter, this Supreme Court decision is one that progressives should be embracing. There is no way to make the WBC’s speech illegal without making all unpopular speech illegal. And that includes unpopular progressive speech. There is no way to ban the WBC’s non-invasive picketing of dead soldier’s funerals without also banning feminists burning bras, or anti-war protesters re-enacting Abu Ghraib, or AIDS activists lying on the sidewalks spattered in fake blood.

National_Women's_Suffrage_Association And of course, many opinions that were once considered horrifying on the face of it are now considered mainstream, or at least a reasonable perspective in the public discourse. Among those opinions: Birth control should be legal. Religion should not be taught in public schools. Gay sex is okay, and gay people have rights. Black people are fully human, and ought not to be treated as property. Black people are fully human, and have the right to marry white people. Oral sex is not sick. Workers have the right to organize and collectively bargain for contracts. Poets have the right to say the word “Fuck.” Women have the right to have orgasms. Women have the right to not be raped by their husbands. Women have the right to vote. All these opinions were once considered morally repugnant… and as a society, we couldn’t have come to accept them if we hadn’t had the right to say them out loud.

I’m not saying that the WBC’s opinions are becoming mainstream, or that they should. Their opinions are vile: they are on the fringe of the fringe of the fringe, and they should stay that way. I’m saying that, as a society, we can’t move forward and accept new ideas if we don’t let people express ideas that we find shocking and upsetting. And I’m saying that, as a purely practical matter, if we want the right to express our opinions when most people find them revolting, we need to protect other peoples right to express their own revolting opinions.

But that’s almost beside the point. We shouldn’t embrace the SCOTUS decision because it works to our benefit and lets us persuade people that we’re right. We should embrace the SCOTUS decision because we care about free speech. Period. Even when we don’t agree with what people say, we should care passionately about their right to say it. Not so we can have our turn to say what we want. Because we give a damn about the principle that people have the right to say what they want. And that means everyone. Regardless of what they’re saying.

FirstAmendment If we truly care about freedom and democracy, we shouldn’t treat the First Amendment like a local zoning law or some arcane bit of tax code. The First Amendment is one of the greatest leaps forward in human history and the evolution of human ethics. We shouldn’t be looking for clever, sneaky ways to get around it.

There are many things we can do, and should do, to stand against Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Looking for loopholes in the First Amendment is not one of them.

Closeted Politicians and Bi Invisibility

This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. I never reprinted it here, since it was very topical, and by the time the reprint rights had reverted to me the media flare-up I was writing about had run its course. But the Blowfish Blog archives are apparently no longer on the Internets, and the original piece is no longer available. So in the interest of completism and making all my published works accessible, I’m going ahead and posting it here.

Does outing closeted gay politicians contribute to bisexual invisibility?

It occurs to me that the way I put that question is sort of answering itself. Let me re-phrase: Does outing closeted politicians who have sex with same-sex partners contribute to bisexual invisibility?

Roy Ashburn There’s been yet another story in the news lately, about yet another rabidly homophobic right-wing politician who was discovered to be gay. (Roy Ashburn’s the joker in this round of the game: he’s the one who was arrested for drunk driving after leaving a gay nightclub with another man, and who finally acknowledged that he was gay — after the story had been broken for days. Tangent: This kind of story is becoming so common, it’s starting to be flat-out silly. It’s getting to the point where, when a politician is rabidly homophobic, I just assume now that they’re gay. It’s become a standard item on my gaydar: Does he have unusually good fashion sense? Is he a little more aware of the works of Lady Gaga than is strictly necessary? Is he a right-wing politician who foams at the mouth about how disgusting homosexuals are and consistently votes against gay rights? Yup — probably gay. I think we need to start a PR campaign about this: if “rabid anti-gay political activism” becomes a standard marker for “probable homosexuality,” maybe fewer right-wing politicians will run with it.)

Anyway. Rabidly homophobic right-wing politician; secretly gay. But Amanda Mennis recently wrote me with an interesting question: Does this story of a secretly gay public figure — and the absurdly long parade of stories like it — contribute in some way to bisexual invisibility?

After all, most of the guys in these scandals (and it has just been guys so far) are married, or have some sort of sexual/ romantic relationship with women. Many of them have children. They’re clearly capable of having sex with women. Doesn’t that make them bisexual, not gay? Or at least, doesn’t it suggest the possibility that some of them are bisexual and not gay?

An interesting question. And one that I’m finding tricky to answer.

Bisexual symbol Part of the problem is that we don’t have a standard definition of what it means to be gay or lesbian or bisexual. It’s not like there’s a gay person in a vacuum in the Smithsonian, against whom we all measure ourselves to determine our own sexual orientation. Everyone defines these terms — gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, bi-curious, heteroflexible (that was a new one on me!), questioning, queer, “basically straight but wouldn’t kick Jon Stewart out of bed,” whatever — in subtly different ways. Or not so subtly different ways.

So ultimately, it doesn’t really make sense to talk about whether someone is “really bisexual.” There is no such thing as “really bisexual.” Within reason (and please don’t ask me to define what “within reason” means), we get to decide for ourselves what sexual orientation we are, and what language we use to describe it.

But what does that mean for someone who’s closeted?

Closet I mean, one of the things about being closeted is that the willingness and ability to honestly self-define one’s sexuality is shot to hell. That isn’t necessarily true with the “I know I’m a big queer but I’m pretending not to be for pragmatic reasons” sort of closeting (the way a lot of LGBT celebrities are: think Melissa Etheridge or George Takei before they came out). But it sure as hell is true with the self-loathing, totally in denial, “Homosexuals are disgusting, and the fact that I suck cock in airport bathrooms has no bearing on that assessment” sort of closeting we see with so many right-wing closet cases. If someone is having that much repression and rationalization about their sexuality, the rest of us have to suspend the “Everyone gets to define their own sexual identity” rule — since we’re not going to get an honest answer out of them. (Larry Craig, for instance, is not saying, “According to the standard tropes of sexual identity, most people would identify me as a gay man — but I’m not an essentialist, I’m a constructionist, and I’m constructing a sexual identity that frames me as a culturally heterosexual man who sometimes has sex with other men.” Larry Craig is sticking his fingers in his ears and saying, “La la la la la, I’m not a faggot.”)

We also have to remember that the ability to function sexually with a person of the opposite sex does not automatically drop someone into the Bisexual slot. Plenty of gay men and lesbians are capable of functioning sexually with people of the opposite sex. It’s just not a very high level of functioning. If you only ever fantasize about people of the same sex; if the only people who make your head turn on the street are people of the same sex; if the only porn you’re interested in is same-sex porn — but you can manage to perform rote, joyless sex acts with an opposite-sex partner as long as you close your eyes and think of Hugh Jackman (or Tilda Swinton) — that’s not a very useful definition of “Bisexual.”

Larry Craig mug shot And when I read the stories about right-wing closet cases, that seems to be the most common story. These stories never read like “reasonably happy marriage of someone with a genuine erotic and romantic connection to their spouse, but who’s also leading a double life with same-sex partners.” They always read like “marriage of convenience — which their spouse may or may not have known was a marriage of convenience.” It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly makes me think that… and the abovementioned fact that these guys aren’t being blazingly honest about their sexuality, with themselves or with anyone else, isn’t helping me figure it out. But there’s something about the intensity of these guys’ professed revulsion with homosexuality, the “lady doth protest too much” quality of their impassioned defenses of heterosexual marriage, that makes me smell a rat. A rat in the form of sham marriages, with no sincere romantic or sexual component.

Now. I do think that media coverage of outed politicians does play into bisexual invisibility in some ways. When these stories get written about, there is an assumption of a sexual orientation binary; an assumption that the world is divided into Gay and Straight, and that anyone having sex with same-sex partners must by default fall into the Gay category. That’s the assumption that gets made in almost every media story written about sexual orientation; it’s no surprise that it gets made in stories about right-wing homophobic politicians who turn out to be closet cases. And it’s a troubling and fucked-up assumption, which does perpetuate the idea that there’s no such thing as bisexuals.

Sexual_orientatione But I think this question of how we name the sexual identity of someone in the closet is profoundly tricky. If we accept that sexual orientations don’t have clear definitions, and we accept that people have the right to define their sexual identities for themselves… then how do we apply that principle to people who aren’t willing or able to be honest about who they are?

So it’s occurring to me that it might make more sense to talk about right-wing homophobic politicians who are secretly having sex with same-sex partners… instead of talking about right-wing homophobic politicians who are secretly gay. It’s occurring to me that it makes no more sense to say that these closeted politicians are “really” gay than it does to say that they’re “really” bisexual.

I mean, do we really want to say that “bisexual” is a deeply personal identity that people can only claim for themselves… but that “gay” is a culturally- defined identity that society gets to pin on other people?

I sure don’t.

Greta’s April Speaking Schedule: Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Boston, Des Moines, Sacramento, and San Francisco

American Atheists national conference

April is the coolest month, breeding atheists out of the dead land…

My speaking schedule in April is a little bit bonkers. I’ll be speaking at the American Atheists national convention in Des Moines, Iowa, and I’ll be on a panel at the American Humanist Association annual conference in Boston. Plus I have additional speaking engagements planned in Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and here at home in San Francisco.

Whew! I’m exhausted in advance — but I’m also really, really excited. This should be a hoot and a half. I’ll be speaking on the topics of “Atheism and Sexuality,” “What Can the Atheist Movement Learn From the LGBT Movement?”, and “Why Are You Atheists So Angry?”, and will also be doing a panel discussion on “Building Diversity: Women, Minorities and LGBT in Local Groups” with Jen McCreight and Debbie Goddard. Here are summaries of the talks:

Atheism and sexuality. The sexual morality of traditional religion tends to be based, not on solid ethical principles, but on a set of taboos about what kinds of sex God does and doesn’t want people to have. And while the sex-positive community offers a more thoughtful view of sexual morality, it still often frames sexuality as positive by seeing it as a spiritual experience. What are some atheist alternatives to these views? How can atheists view sexual ethics without a belief in God? And how can atheists view sexual transcendence without a belief in the supernatural?

What can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement? The atheist movement is already modeling itself on the LGBT movement in many ways — most obviously with its focus on coming out of the closet. What else can the atheist movement learn from the LGBT movement… both from its successes and its failures?

Why are you atheists so angry? The atheist movement is often accused of being driven by anger. What are so many atheists so angry about? Is this anger legitimate? And can anger be an effective force behind a movement for social change?

Building Diversity: Women, Minorities and LGBT in Local Groups. The public image of atheism is often described as being “a club for old white men.” Unfortunately, too many groups do seem to have one or more of these biases. Jen McCreight tackles the question of why so many groups seem to be lacking godless women, and what we can do to fix this gender gap. Debbie Goddard takes a hard look at how our message isn’t resonating with certain demographics, and shows how we can improve. Greta Christina offers encouragement through comparisons with the LGBT movement, highlighting areas in which we’ve done well and directing attention to our opportunities for improvement.

If you’re in any of these cities, come by and say howdy! Here are the whens and wheres:

American humanist association logo LOCATION: Cambridge, Massachusetts, Hyatt Regency Cambridge Hotel — American Humanist Association annual conference
TIME: 4:30pm-5:45pm
TOPIC: Building Diversity: Women, Minorities and LGBT in Local Groups – panel discussion, with Jen McCreight, Debbie Goddard
SPONSORS: American Humanist Association and Secular Student Alliance (part of the SSA Leadership Track at the conference)
DURATION: 1 hour panel discussion
COST: See conference website for details

Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and HumanistsLOCATION: Minneapolis, MN, University of Minnesota, Murphy Hall 130, 206 Church Street SE
TIME: 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm
TOPIC: What Can the Atheist Movement Learn From the LGBT Movement?
SPONSOR: Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists, University of Minnesota
DURATION: 60 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: Free

Secular Humanism, Inquiry and Freethought LOCATION: Salt Lake City, UT, University of Utah, University of Utah Social and Behavioral Science Auditorium, 392 South 1530 East
TIME: 7:00 – 8:30 pm
TOPIC: What Can the Atheist Movement Learn From the LGBT Movement?
SPONSOR: SHIFT: Secular Humanism, Inquiry and Freethought, University of Utah
DURATION: 60 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: Free

Americanatheists LOCATION: Des Moines, IA, Embassy Suites Hotel/ Convention Center – American Atheists national convention
TIME: 2:00 – 3:00 pm, followed by book signing from 5:30 – 7:00
TOPIC: Why Are Atheists So Angry?
SPONSOR: American Atheists
DURATION: 40 minutes, plus a little Q&A if time permits
COST: See convention website for details

Sacramento City College LOCATION: Sacramento, CA, Sacramento City College, Student Center
TIME: 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
SPONSOR: Sac City Freethinkers, Sacramento City College
DURATION: 60 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: Free to all Los Rios Community College District students and employees
$5 at the door for general public

San Francisco Atheists LOCATION: San Francisco, CA Schroeder’s Restaurant, 240 Front St.
TIME: 4:30pm – 7:00 pm
TOPIC: Why Are You Atheists So Angry?
SPONSOR: San Francisco Atheists
DURATION: 60 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: Free

Hope to see you there! I’ll be doing Q&A at most of these talks, so come prepared with questions… or just come by to say howdy!

Atheists of Color – A List

Sikivu HutchinsonHemant MehtaDebbie Goddard

Ayaan Hirsi AliHector AvalosAnthony Pinn

Jamila BeySalman RushdieArundhati Roy

David SuzukiMaggie ArdienteSimon Singh

Charone PagettDan Barker Taslima Nasreen

Donald WrightMina AhadiSanal_Edamaruku

So here it is, as promised — a list of prominent atheists of color.

And, since it seemed relevant — here, also, is a list of organizations of atheists of color, and atheist organizations predominantly focused on/ participated in by people of color.

If you’re helping to organize an atheist conference, and you want your conference to be more diverse and more reflective of the makeup of the atheist community? If you’re an atheist writer or activist, and you want your quotations/ citations/ blogroll/ etc. to be more diverse and more reflective of the makeup of the atheist community? If you’re simply part of the atheist community/ movement, and you want to be more familiar with the work of a wider range of atheists, a range that’s more diverse and more reflective of the makeup of the atheist community? Hopefully, this list will help.

(Note: In case you’re not already aware of it, here, in a similar vein, is a large list of awesome female atheists, compiled by Jen McCreight at BlagHag.)

A couple of quick notes before the list itself. First, and very importantly: This is a work in progress, and I’ll be updating it regularly. So please feel free to make suggestions. If there are people who aren’t on this list who you think should be, or people who are on the list but you think shouldn’t be (because they’re not self-acknowledged atheists, for instance) — or if there’s information on the list that’s inaccurate or incomplete — please let me know, either in the comments, or by emailing me at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com. And if you yourself are on this list and want me to either remove you or correct/ update your information, please let me know.

(Important note: If you make suggestions of people who should be included in this list, please don’t just tell me their name! I need their name, the URL for their blog/ website if they have one, and a SHORT list of credentials: books, blogs, publications they write for, achievements, etc. If you only give me their name, I have to do a bunch of Googling and editing, and it’ll take longer to get them in.)

Second: This is not intended to be a list of famous atheists of color throughout history. That would certainly be a useful project — but it’s not this project. This is meant to be a list af atheists of color who are alive and active now.

Third: I do not want to get into an argument here about why we need this list, or how we should just be color blind and ignore race altogether. In a perfect world, maybe we wouldn’t need it. We don’t live in a perfect world. Among other things, well- meaning people can unconsciously perpetuate racial bias without intending to… and we need to take conscious action to counter this unconscious tendency. If you think the atheist movement doesn’t need to make a conscious effort to be more inclusive, then please read these pieces:

Getting It Right Early: Why Atheists Need to Act Now on Gender and Race
Race, Gender, and Atheism, Part 2: What We Need To Do — And Why

And if, after reading those pieces — not skimming them or reading the titles, but actually reading them — you still think we don’t need to make a conscious effort to be more inclusive of people of color, then please make your arguments ON THOSE POSTS. Not here. Comments here arguing that we don’t need this list will be disemvoweled or deleted. This post is for people who will find this list useful and informative, and/or who want to make suggestions about keeping it accurate and up to date.

Finally: Yes, I’m aware of the ironies and potential pitfalls of a white person compiling and publishing this list. Most obviously and most seriously, I know that it’s problematic for a white person to be the “gatekeeper” of a list like this. Any time a list like this gets compiled, decisions have to be made about who to include and who not to include… and I get that it’s problematic for a white person to be the one making those decisions. If a list like this already existed, compiled by a person of color, I’d just link to it and publicize the hell out it. But I asked a whole bunch of people of all races if they knew of such a list, and nobody did… and the general response was, “Yeah, that’d be useful, someone should really do that, HINT HINT.” The general sentiment seemed to be that it would be really, really good for a list like this to exist on the ‘Net, and that I should just go ahead and do it already.

So I’m dealing with this potentiall pitfall in two ways. One: When in doubt, I’m erring on the side of inclusion. I did decide against some people whose names had been suggested (mostly bloggers who haven’t updated in months, plus some people who don’t seem to self-identify as atheist). But for the most part, if I was on the fence about including someone, I went ahead and included them.

Two, and much more importantly: For this post and this post only, I am relinquishing copyright. If you want to copy this list and re-publish it on your own blog or forum or website or whatever — and you want to add to/ subtract from/ make changes to it as you see fit — please do so. I’m not only okay with this: I actively encourage it. In fact, if you do so, please tell me about it, and I’ll link to your list here.

(Other lists, from people who have taken me up on this offer:
Lists of Atheist/Agnostic Contacts You May Not Have Considered, at The Word Of Me…)

So here it is, as promised — a list of prominent atheists of color.

INDIVIDUALS

Robert Affinis, founder of the freethought apparel line Affinis Apparel, creator of the “Revolution in Photography” project
Mina Ahadi, founder of the Central Council of Ex-Muslims (Zentralrat der Ex-Muslime) and the International Committee against Stoning
Jim Al-Khalili, professor of theoretical physics, science broadcaster, President of the British Humanist Association
Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of Infidel and Nomad, activist, politician, founder of the AHA Foundation
Tariq Ali, historian, novelist, journalist, filmmaker, public intellectual, political campaigner, activist, commentator
Norm Allen, author of African American Humanism and Black Secular Humanist Thought, editor-in-chief of Human Prospect: A Neo-Humanist Perspective, secretary of Paul Kurtz’s Institute for Science and Human Values, former head of African Americans for Humanism, blogger at Black Skeptics
Anti-Intellect, blogger at Black Skeptics, Twitter personality (@Anti_Intellect), gay activist
Maggie Ardiente, director of development and communications, American Humanist Association; editor of Humanist Network News (AHA’s weekly e-zine)
Diane Arellano, blogger, Black Skeptics
Homa Arjomand, coordinator of the International Campaign Against Shari’a Court in Canada
Hector Avalos, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Iowa State University, speaker/ debater, author of The End of Biblical Studies, Strangers in Our Own Land: Religion in U.S. Latina/o Literature, Se puede saber si Dios existe? [Can One Know if God Exists?], and more
Siana Bangura, blogger, The Heresy Club
Donald Barbera, author of Black But Not Baptist: Nonbelief and Freethought in the Black Community
Dan Barker, co-president of Freedom From Religion Foundation, author of several books, including Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America’s Leading Atheists and The Good Atheist: Living a Purpose-Filled Life Without God
Jamila Bey, atheist comedian and journalist
Reginald Bien-Aime, founder, Haitian FREE Thinkers, blogger at Haitian Atheist
Peach Braxton, videoblogger, The Peach
Naima Cabelle, atheist activist and member of Washington Area Secular Humanists
Ed Cara, blogger at The Heresy Club, comedian, actor
Ian Cromwell, musician and blogger, The Crommunist Manifesto
Bree Crutch, founder, Minority Atheists of Michigan (@MinorityAtheist)
Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, founder, Maharashta Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samitee (Superstition Eradication Committee)
Heina Dadabhoy, blogger at Skepchick, speaker
Sanal Edamaruku, author and paranormal investigator, founder-president of Rationalist International, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, creator of The Great Tantra Challenge
Afshin Ellian, columnist for Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad and Elsevier; blogger; poet; law professor at University of Leiden
Mike Estes, Atheist Coalition of San Diego; public speaker
Reginald Finley, founder of Infidel Guy radio show
Walter O. Garcia-Meza, board of directors, Hispanic American Freethinkers
Bridget Gaudette, director of development for Foundation Beyond Belief, blogger at Freethoughtify, co-founder of Secular Woman, speaker (@BridgetGaudette & @freethoughtify)
Hemley Gonzalez, founder, Responsible Charity
MercedesDiane Griffin, blogger/ activist, founder /president of the Mercedes Parra Foundation for Women and Girls
Debbie Goddard, director of outreach at the Center for Inquiry, speaker, head of African Americans for Humanism
Jacques L. Hamel, Scientific Affairs Officer with United Nations, international science and technology policy expert
Mark Hatcher, founder of Secular Students at Howard University
Heather Henderson, podcaster at Ardent Atheist podcast, podcaster at Skeptically Yours podcast, lead female singer in Penn Jillette’s NoGodBand
Sundas Hoorain, blogger, The Heresy Club, political activist, human rights lawyer
Stanley Huang, Taiwanese-American singer, known for the song/ album “Atheist Like Me”
Sabri Husibi, speaker, Tulsa Atheist Group
Sikivu Hutchinson, writer and editor, author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and Secular America, editor of BlackFemLens.org, Senior Fellow for the Institute for Humanist Studies, blogger at Black Skeptics
Leo Igwe, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Nigeria
David Ince, a.k.a. Caribatheist, blogger, No Religion Know Reason
Sam Jackson, Assistant Campus Organizer and Group Starting Specialist, Secular Student Alliance
A.J. Johnson, writer, speaker (@HappiestAtheist)
McKinley Jones, president, Black American Free Thought Association (BAF/TA)
S.T. Joshi, literary critic, novelist; author of God’s Defenders: What They Believe and Why They Are Wrong and more; editor of Atheism: A Reader and more
Alix Jules, chair of diversity committee on the Dallas-Fort Worth Coalition for Reason
Avicenna Last, blogger, A Million Gods
Naomi Love, Secretary, Black Nonbelievers
Kenan Malik, writer, lecturer, blogger, and BBC Radio broadcaster, author of Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy, Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides are Wrong in the Race Debate, and more
Hemant Mehta, blogger at Friendly Atheist, author of I Sold My Soul on eBay
Ian Andreas Miller, blogger, Diaphanitas
Jeffrey “Atheist Walking” Mitchell, atheist street philosopher and member of Black Skeptics
Maryam Namazie, rights activist, commentator and broadcaster on Iran, rights, cultural relativism, secularism, religion, political Islam and other related topics; spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain; blogger
Meera Nanda, writer, historian and philosopher of science
Taslima Nasreen, author and activist; blogger at No Country for Women
Ramendra Nath, professor and author; head of Department of Philosophy, Patna College, Patna University; author of Why I Am Not a Hindu, Is God Dead?, The Myth of Unity of All Religions, and more
First Nation, blogger, Native Skeptic
Kwadwo Obeng, author, We Are All Africans
Adebowale Ojuro, author of Crisis of Religion
James Onen, radio broadcaster, blogger at Freethought Kampala
Charone Paget, producer/host of LAMBDA Radio Report, WRFG, Atlanta; on leadership team of Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta; founder of Queer and Atheist of Atlanta
Ernest Parker, leader of African Americans for Humanism DC
Anthony Pinn, author of numerous books on humanism, head of Institute for Humanist Studies, Agnes Cullen Arnold Professor of Humanities and Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University
Robin Quivers, radio personality
Robert Reece, blogger, Still Furious and Still Brave: Who’s Afraid of Persistent Blackness? (@PhuzzieSlippers)
Lorena Rios, board of directors, Hispanic American Freethinkers
Bwambale Robert, founder, Kasese Humanist Primary School, Kasese United Humanist Association
Sid Rodrigues, scientist, researcher, organizer of Skeptics in the Pub
Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things and more, activist
Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, Midnight’s Children, Luka and the Fire of Life, Grimus, and more
Amartya Sen, Nobel-prize winning economist
Alom Shaha, science teacher, film-maker, and writer; author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook
Ariane Sherine, creator of the Atheist Bus Campaign
Labi Siffre, poet and songwriter
Simon Singh, author, journalist, TV producer, libel reform activist
Mano Singham, theoretical physicist, blogger
Darrel ‘Reasonheimer’ Smith, author/editor, You Are Not Alone: “BlackNones”
Felicia Smith, Vice-President, Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta
Frederick Sparks, blogger, Black Skeptics
Greydon Square, atheist rapper and spoken word artist
Wafa Sultan, author and critic of Islam and Islamic theocracy
David Suzuki, scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster; co-founder of the environmentalist David Suzuki Foundation
David Tamayo, board of directors, Hispanic American Freethinkers
Red Tani, Filipino Freethinkers
Nicome Taylor, blogger, Black Skeptics
Mandisa Lateefah Thomas, co-founder and President, Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta
Harriet Thugman, a.k.a. Donnie McTwerkin, Twitter personality (@HarrietThugman)
Andrew Ti, Tumblr blogger at Yo, Is This Racist?, comedian
Xavier Trapp, blogger at The Rev Speaks, co-host of the SERIOUSLY?! podcast (@Rev_Xavier)
Kim Veal, Blog Talk Radio, Black Freethinkers
Maria Walters, a.k.a. Masala Skeptic, blogger, Skepchick
Naima Washington, blogger, Black Skeptics
Ayanna Watson, founder of Black Atheists of America
Wrath James White, author, blogger at Godless and Black
Clarence Williams, author of Truth
Donald Wright, author of The Only Prayer I’ll Ever Pray: Let My People Go, blogger at Black Skeptics
Lauren Anderson Youngblood, Communications Manager, Secular Coalition for America
Zhiyah, writer/blogger, The Affirmative Atheist
Indra Zuno, stage/ film/ television actress, Mexico and USA, appeared in “The Virgin of Juarez” and “The Violent Kind”

A note about Neil DeGrasse Tyson: When I was solicitiing suggestions for this list, Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s name was brought up several times, by several different people. However, as I understand it, while Tyson calls himself an agnostic and a skeptic, he does not identify as an atheist, and does not want to be associated with the atheist movement. If anyone has current information showing that he does, in fact, identify as an atheist — and can provide a citation — I’ll happily put him on the list. Until then, I’ll respect his right to self-identify as he chooses. (Ditto with Ibn Warraq, who identifies as an agnostic but not an atheist.)

GROUPS/ ORGANIZATIONS/ GROUP BLOGS

African Americans for Humanism
African Americans for Humanism DC
Atheist Association of Uganda
Black American Free Thought Association (BAF/TA)
Black Atheists of America
Black Freethinkers Yahoo Group
Black FreeThinkers social network
Black Freethought discussion group, Atheist Nexus
Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta
Black Skeptics
Buddhiwadi Foundation/ Bihar Buddhiwadi Samaj (Bihar Rationalist Society)
Central Council of Ex-Muslims (Zentralrat der Ex-Muslime)
Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Filipino Freethinkers
Freethought Kampala
The Grenada Free-thought Community
Harlem Community Center for Inquiry
Hispanic American Freethinkers
Hispanic Atheists of all Ethnic Groups
Indian Rationalist Association
Kasese United Humanist Association
Maharashta Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Samitee (Superstition Eradication Committee)
Maharashtra Blind faith Eradication Committee, a.k.a. AntiSuperstition.org
Malaysian Atheists
Nirmukta
Secular Students at Howard University
South African Skeptics
Tarksheel Society (India)
Uganda Humanist Association

I hope people find this helpful. Again, if you have any suggestions for additions or corrections, please let me know: either in the comments, or by emailing me at greta (at) gretachristina (dot) com.

The Fred Phelps Supreme Court Decision and Why We Shouldn’t Look for Loopholes in the First Amendment

When it comes to free speech and the First Amendment, the content of the speech, and whether or not we find it hateful, vile and abhorrent, is irrelevant.

Godhatesfags Let’s start with something I hope we all agree on. What Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church do? It’s repulsive. Picketing people’s funerals? Specifically, picketing the funerals of gay-bashing victims and U.S. soldiers? Going to people’s funerals and essentially celebrating? Wielding big colorful signs saying, “God Hates Fags,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Thank God for 9/11,” “God Hates You,” and so on? Saying that dead soldiers — gay, straight, whatever, doesn’t matter — are God’s punishment to America for tolerating homosexuality?

Repulsive. Horrifying. The dictionary definition of evil. I get that. No argument.

The question is: What should we do about it?

As you’ve probably heard, the Supreme Court just ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church does have the right, within some reasonable limits, to picket at funerals. Background, in case you’re not familiar with the case: The Westboro Baptist Church was sued by Albert Snyder, father of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder, for picketing at his son’s funeral with their vile and hateful message. The court ruled that, since the protests happened peacefully and in a public space at a non-disruptive distance from the funeral — and since, quote, “speech on public issues occupies the highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values and is entitled to special protection” — the original judgment against them could not stand.

Many progressives have expressed outrage at this ruling. And from an emotional point of view, that outrage is totally understandable. The Westboro Baptist Church is very, very good at hitting our most raw nerves. They hurt people for the sake of hurting them, and apparently take glee in doing so. They violate fundamental principles of human decency. They are loathsome. Outrage against them is entirely reasonable.

But here’s the problem.

Many of the progressive arguments against the Supreme Court ruling? They’re very contorted. They don’t look like clear thinking based on clear principles of Constitutional law. They look like rationalizations for why the Constitution doesn’t really have to apply in this case. They look like the reactions of people who are deeply upset about what the Westboro Baptist Church does — as indeed they should be — and are looking for legal loopholes to try to stop them.

And we should not be looking for loopholes in the First Amendment.

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Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, The Fred Phelps Supreme Court Decision and Why We Shouldn’t Look for Loopholes in the First Amendment. (This actually went up a few days ago, btw, but I somehow missed it when I was on my speaking tour.) To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Atheists of Color?

I want to compile a list of prominent atheists of color. Not in history (I might do that sometime later), but people who are alive and active now. Can you help me?

I’m getting a bit tired of atheist conference organizers saying, “We’d like to be more diverse and have more speakers of color, but we just don’t know of any!” Ditto atheist writers/ bloggers, and the people they cite/ link to/ put in their blogrolls. I do not want anyone to be able to say, ever again, “I’d like to be more diverse and not so white-centric, but I just don’t know of that many atheists of color!” In the future, whenever anyone says this, I want to be able to point them to a list. And I want other atheists to be able to do the same.

Jen McCreight has already done this with her large list of awesome female atheists. We need one for awesome atheists of color.

And no, I don’t want to get into an argument about why we need this list, or how we should just be color blind and ignore race altogether. In a perfect world, maybe we wouldn’t need it. We don’t live in a perfect world. Among other things, well- meaning people can unconsciously perpetuate racial bias without intending to… and we need to take conscious action to counter this unconscious tendency. If you think the atheist movement doesn’t need to make a conscious effort to be more inclusive, then please read these pieces:

Getting It Right Early: Why Atheists Need to Act Now on Gender and Race
Race, Gender, and Atheism, Part 2: What We Need To Do — And Why

And if, after reading those pieces — not skimming them or reading the titles, but actually reading them — you still think we don’t need to make a conscious effort to be more inclusive of people of color, then please make your arguments ON THOSE POSTS. Not here. Comments here arguing that we don’t need this list will be disemvoweled or deleted. This post is for people who want to help compile the list. Period.

And yes, I’m aware of the irony/ pitfalls of a white person compiling this list. If a list like this already existed, compiled by a person of color, I’d just link to it and publicize the hell out it. But I asked a whole bunch of people of all races if they knew of such a list, and nobody did, and the general response was, “Yeah, that’d be useful, someone should really do that, HINT HINT.” So fuck it. I’m just going to do it.

Help, please? Let me know about any out atheists of color you know of and whose work you admire. They should be reasonably prominent, and they should be open about their atheism. I need name, URL for blog/ website if they have one, and a SHORT list of credentials: books, blogs, publications they write for, achievements, etc. Thanks!

High School Atheists Courageously Battle for Their Rights… With Awesome Organization Behind Them

Ssa logo So when I was writing my recent news piece for AlterNet about the Secular Student Alliance and their new dedicated program for high school atheist groups, I kept finding myself being entertained by how hard it was to write. I am so not a news writer: I am an opinion writer, to the nucleus of the cells of the marrow of my bones, and while I’m perfectly happy to reach out of my comfort zone and write more standard news pieces, I could tell that, despite my best efforts to keep it newsy, my personal opinion was leaking out around the edges.

So for those of you who thought that the article was a bit of a puff piece, I thought you’d be entertained by the stuff I left out of the final draft. (If you haven’t already, be sure to read the original piece first, so you get the context.)

P.S. This is funnier if you know that all the interviews quoted here were, in fact, conducted via email.

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The Secular Student Alliance, an umbrella organization supporting non-theistic student groups, whose dynamic vision for the future is backed with fierce organizational skills, passed 250 affiliates this month — a number that has doubled in just two years. (Conflict of interest alert: I’m on the speaker’s bureau for the Secular Student Alliance; I’m colleagues/ friends with several people in the organization; and I consider it an honor and a privilege to have shared their company and labored at their side.)

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Jt eberhard According to JT Eberhard, human dynamo and Campus Organizer and High School Specialist for the SSA, “Most of them seem to elect to try and drag their feet until the interested students either lose interest or graduate.”
*

“A predictable pattern has actually emerged,” Eberhard continues, a quiver in his voice, his expressive brown eyes snapping with righteous indignation at the injustice.

*

With the help of a grant from the Stiefel Freethought Foundation, they hired organizational superstar Eberhard, co-founder of the nationally- renowned, hard-rocking, fanatically beloved atheist conference Skepticon (and of the Missouri State University Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, an inspiration for atheist student groups everywhere and Skepticon’s official host), as their dedicated high school campus organizer. In an organization already recognized as a trailblazer in the movement, it was a daring move that many consider to be among their most brilliant.

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Lyz liddell According to SSA Director of Campus Organizing Lyz Liddell, a deceptive twinkle in her eye that could transform in a second to a flashing glint of hard steel, “We’ve had around 4-6 HS groups for most of the time we’ve been around, but there’s been no consistency or sustainability until recently.”
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August brunsman As SSA’s Executive Director August Brunsman said, compassion and humanity blazing out from behind his cherubic face, “While the law is certainly on our side, we would rather have social understanding than legal victory.” August spoke to me from the expansive, tasteful, yet warm and welcoming home he shares with his charming and vibrant wife, Camp Quest executive director Amanda K. Metskas, and their two gregarious cats, Shiva and Vishnu.
*

Says Eberhard, whose imagination and mischievous humor is matched only by his bulldog determination and his ferocious passion for justice and truth, “Some view the conclusions of religion to be maladaptive and seek to generate public dialogue about the failings of faith.”

*

As Liddell pointed out, a gleam of raw intellect glittering behind her fashionable spectacles, “For an awful lot of people, high school is the last educational system they’re in.” Liddell ran her fingers through her short, stylishly- coiffed blond hair, and continued, “If all our groups are in colleges, then only college students will be exposed to freethought as a ‘normal’ worldview.”

*

George and the dragon For other groups, who won’t be able to count on national media attention to aid their cause, the battle for their legal right to organize without intimidation may be more uphill.

But they won’t be fighting it alone. With the sword and shield of the Secular Student Alliance at their side, the youth of America have a powerful ally. The battle for righteousness carries on valiantly, and the torch of human reason shall not flicker and die.

For more information on the desperately needed Secular Student Alliance high school program, or to lend support to their eminently worthy cause, visit the Secular Student Alliance website.

Greta’s Speaking Tour — Urbana/Champaign, Calgary, and Edmonton, March 10-13… and Brief Blog Break

Cfi poster

One last reminder: If you’re in Illinois or Alberta — specifically in Urbana/Champaign in Illinois, or in Calgary or Edmonton in Alberta, Canada — come hear me speak! I’m going to be doing a mini speaking tour, March 10-13, in these three cities. My stops will be at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; the University of Calgary; and the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

I’ll be speaking on the topic of “Atheism and Sexuality” to all three groups. Here’s the summary:

The sexual morality of traditional religion tends to be based, not on solid ethical principles, but on a set of taboos about what kinds of sex God does and doesn’t want people to have. And while the sex-positive community offers a more thoughtful view of sexual morality, it still often frames sexuality as positive by seeing it as a spiritual experience. What are some atheist alternatives to these views? How can atheists view sexual ethics without a belief in God? And how can atheists view sexual transcendence without a belief in the supernatural?

I’ll be doing Q&A at every talk, so come prepared to grill me, ask me that question you’ve always wanted to ask, or just say howdy. The tour is being sponsored in part by the fabulous Secular Student Alliance. Here are the details:

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Issa 1LOCATION: UIUC, 319 Gregory Hall
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
DATE: Thursday, March 10th
TIME: 7:00 – 8:00 pm
SPONSOR: Illini Secular Student Alliance, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
DURATION: 45 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: Free

CFILOCATION: University of Calgary, Earth Sciences building, Room 162
DATE: Saturday, March 12th
TIME: 3:30 – 5:00 pm
SPONSOR: Centre for Inquiry, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
DURATION: 45 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: $10 general admission, $5.00 for students, free for Friends of the Centre for Inquiry and U of C Freethinkers

CFILOCATION: University of AlbertaETLC 2 – 001 (Engineering Teaching and Learning Complex, 2nd floor, room 001) (here’s a map — accessibility is with elevators through the front entrance on the right side, for those who may need them)
DATE: Sunday, March 13th
TIME: 2:00 – 3:00 pm
SPONSOR: Centre for Inquiry, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (here’s their Facebook page and meetup page)
TOPIC: Atheism and Sexuality
DURATION: 45 minutes, plus Q&A
COST: $5.00

Hope to see you there! (And do check out the amazing poster they put together for the Calgary talk. It’s the image at the top of the post. Click to enlarge. I am so proud I could bust.)

And I probably won’t be blogging very much while I’m away. I know, I’m a blog-tease. I get you all excited about my ideas, and then leave you hanging. I’ll be back next week, I promise. See you soon!